Sir John Mortimer's legendary lawyer Rumpole to be given a sex change

Rumpole’s back – and has SHE got news for you! Sir John Mortimer’s legendary lawyer is given a sex change by daughter Emily with rumours Lily James will be approached for the part

It’s almost 30 years since bon viveur TV barrister Horace Rumpole summed up for the last time at the Old Bailey.

But now there’s a new Rumpole on the case – one sure to be very different from the hard-drinking, cigar-chomping lawyer famously played by Leo McKern.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the daughters of Rumpole creator Sir John Mortimer are writing fresh scripts with a woman taking the starring role.

Acclaimed actress Emily Mortimer has spent the past two years working on the project with her journalist sister Rosie, and sources say the drama will reflect the current state of the sexes in the courts, where there are now more female lawyers than male.

Rumpole entertained millions of viewers with his caustic wit and brave defence of the underdog, but his portly bearing and eccentric manner reflected the male-dominated legal world of the time. 

Away from court he was, however, kept in check by his wife Hilda, whom he lovingly referred to as ‘she who must be obeyed’.

The drama featured few other women, although Patricia Hodge made appearances as QC Phyllida Erskine-Brown.

Rumpole, played by Leo McKern (pictured) entertained millions of viewers with his caustic wit and brave defence of the underdog

Insiders say that the new adaptation will not only feature a female Rumpole, but a larger number of female characters to better represent today’s courtrooms.

According to official figures, the number of practising female lawyers overtook the number of men for the first time in 2018.

In 1970, women accounted for only 8.2 per cent of those called to the Bar, but by last year that figure had risen to 38.2 per cent.

There is speculation that Lily James may be approached about the part. She won praise for her recent portrayal of Linda Radlett in the TV adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s novel The Pursuit Of Love – written and directed by Emily Mortimer. Ms James, 32, and Ms Mortimer have the same agent.

Another name in the frame is Keeley Hawes, whose portrayal of Home Secretary Julia Montague in the BBC1 drama Bodyguard was widely praised. 

Emily Mortimer, 49, first revealed that she had started working on a new Rumpole in October 2019, suggesting it could be a tribute to her dramatist father, who was also a barrister. He died in 2009, aged 85.

‘It’s been such fun to write,’ she said. ‘It’s such a nice way of remembering our dad.’

It is understood the remake of the drama, which ran between 1978 to 1992, will be broadcast next year.

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